Deputy Transport Minister Chatt Kuldiloke last week vowed to upgrade the country’s railway network as his first priority, besides the procurement of 4,000 NGV buses.
“I think the railroads must be changed substantially as they do not meet the [international] standard,” he said.
In an interview with The Nation, Chatt conceded that he is close to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
He said he was repeatedly urged to oversee railway improvement after having consulted with Thaksin upon assuming his ministerial post.
The network was built during the reign of King Rama V, or more than 120 years ago. Now, Thailand uses a one-metre gauge while other countries use the standard gauge with a track width of 1.435 metres.
Since the railway improve-ment plan has already been approved with a budget of Bt176 billion, it should be going ahead, he said.
The plan mainly involves the procurement of new locomotives, carriages, bogies and cross points as well as some sections of double-track railways.
The State Railway of Thailand has reportedly signed preliminary agreements with many suppliers.
However, Bt30 billion -Bt40 billion could be saved if some parts of the project are revised, he said with less confidence.
“If we can save some of the budget, we can spend more instead on developing the high-speed train project, which |needs high construction costs,” he said.
For the bullet train project, the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section will come first, out of the four routes planned by the previous government in the first stage. The tracks would be extended to Khon Kaen and Nong Khai in the next stages.
“This route can be in place in two or three years,” he said.
The high-speed railway is not only for mass transit but also cargo shipments. The speed of the train should be not more than 300 kilometres per hour in a bid to reduce construction costs. The appropriate speed should be 200kph.
The framework for the memorandum of agreement for the Sino-Thai high-speed train project, linking Nong Khai to South China via Laos, as initiated by the previous government, could continue if everything is clear, he said, while declining to give more details.
The pending 4,000-NGV-bus project for Greater Bangkok was also a priority task. Authorities are now revising the plan and it would be completed over the next few weeks when the new directors of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) are settled in after September 20. Then, the specifics of the number of new buses required, procurement methods and budget could be revealed.
Currently, 2,801 buses are providing commuter services in Greater Bangkok and most of them are 14-18 years old.
At least 3,500 new buses are needed to replace the old ones. But, the decision on the procurement method has not been made yet. The choices are leasing, purchasing or renting.
Many suppliers have also rushed to offer their technologies and prices varying from Bt2 million-Bt4 billion per vehicle.
Chatt said he personally prefers the leasing method as this could bring down the budget. However, there should be a mix of new buses procured by renting, leasing and purchasing.
The revised plan will have to follow the bus routing plan made by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, which is being revised with possibly both grid and circle patterns in a bid to serve the public more conveniently.
“At least, you should transfer only once to get to your destination,” he said.
The BMTA would also bring the electronic ticketing system to the public bus fleet. No one would be hired to replace the 550 staff who are responsible for fare collections on the buses that will retire this year and the 550 staff on buses retiring next year.
“It’s expected that passengers will enjoy the new buses by the end of this year,” he added.
Source: The Nation